Monday, February 28, 2011

Apple bytes, square donuts and snow

We have a beautiful Mac Notebook. It's fairly new - acquired last year to replace our old laptop, which had died a slow death. This newer version is a thing of beauty, and her name is Sabrina, but that's a long story.

Last week, the power adaptor stopped working. I plugged the cord into Sabrina, but no little lights came on to indicate that battery-charging was taking place.

This may or may not be related to the fact that moments earlier, I'd found Miss Pie with the small end of the adaptor in her mouth. She'd been suspiciously quiet - for about half a minute - on the other side of the the kitchen counter, from where I'd been making breakfast, unaware that she'd managed to reach up, pull the cord out of Sabrina, and started slurping on it.

After being told about this, and some investigation, J came to the conclusion that the fault may actually be something to do with the battery itself, and not the adaptor. My software engineer husband was in denial.

We'd also had a minor issue with Sabrina's screen - it was coming away from the frame in one corner - and we hadn't got around to getting that sorted out. She was still under warranty, so this was the kick up the bum we needed to take her in to the local Apple Store.

On Saturday morning, J rang up and made an appointment at the Apple store. The only time slot available was 4.30pm.

I'd been running errands - alone (bliss!) - all day and had no intention of going in (again) with him, but when 4pm hit, the girls were going stir-crazy from being at home all day. It seemed a good idea for us all to go in together.

As soon as we arrived at the mall, I regretted it. Late Saturday afternoon at the mall, on a cold, stormy day? I'd never seen the place so packed. Duh. What was I thinking?

We pushed our way through the half-gallon-slurping throngs and finally made it to the Apple Store. The technician's verdict was that it was indeed the adaptor at fault. We may or may not have mentioned the slurping toddler factor. A new adaptor was promptly issued, but Sabrina had to be left at the store for a few days so her screen could be repaired.

All under warranty, though, so we were happy.

Mission accomplished, we did not want to spend a minute longer in the crowds so made our way back to the car. It took another fifteen minutes of mayhem to exit the car park.

When we did, the sky was doing crazy things. Did I mention this was the same afternoon that snow fell in Burbank? As in, snow fell within this City of Angels?

Have I mentioned that we live just three miles from Burbank?

We noticed that some of the closer mountains appeared to have had a dumping of icing sugar on top - something we hadn't seen before, as these particular mountains aren't as high as the usual ones near L.A. that get snow each year.

The sky in that direction looked bruised and swollen, yet the sun setting in the west was casting all sorts of peachy beams over a clearer sky. There were individual clouds, piled on top of one another. We noticed one large, pillowy cloud with a hole in the centre - clearly resembling a square donut. There were simultaneous cravings and stomach-grumbles in the car as J, myself and the Faery began visualising more donuts, Homer Simpson style.

Half-way home, sitting at a red light, a couple of cars drove past... with snow on top. WTF? We couldn't believe what we'd just seen, but managed to catch up with one of the cars at the next set of lights, ogle, and confirm that, yep, it was snow all right.

By the time we parked the car at home, we were pretty happy. We'd just seen snow (it takes very little snow to make this Aussie family excited), and it felt like there were possibilities of more to come. Stranger things have happened, right?

And we had a new, functioning adaptor for Sabrina.

On the way out of the car, J grabbed the water bottle from between our seats, before we began our synchronised efforts at freeing the girls from their car seats.

We walked in our front door, J set Miss Pie onto the floor... and water dripped from his bag. The water bottle's lid mustn't have been on tight enough.

Buggering bollocks.

Sabrina's new adaptor was in his bag. It. Was. Soaked.

Back to square one, then.

Maybe that was the universe having a laugh at us? Telling us that next time, we should just hand over money for a new adaptor, instead of wheedling one from the warranty when we know better...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Whole Foods - your window to weight gain

One of the joys of living in the US is a health supermarket chain called Whole Foods.

Before you get the wrong impression about me, let's get one thing clear. I'm no health nut. I've never been obsessed with hitting the gym (actually, I detest it and would rather do a lot of walking), organic food, or calorie-counting. None of those things have really interested me.

I love chocolate. I love cheese. And I love anything that's encased in pastry.

Having said that, I like to think I live a healthy enough lifestyle. I (usually) choose walking over driving for a lot of day-to-day errands. I eat mostly home-cooked meals, made from scratch. I don't make a habit of visiting the Golden Arches - or many other fast food joints, for that matter. Generally, I don't eat a lot of processed crap, and now that we're in the US, do my best to avoid things with high fructose corn syrup. I do actually enjoy, and frequently eat, a lot of vegetarian dishes. I may not be skinny, but I hope that these factors will stop me from being a lot bigger than I already am ('Amazonian' proportions, thank you).

Over the years, I've barely set foot into health stores, but circumstances have gradually changed. The main issue is that J needs gluten-free bread, and we cook with gluten-free pasta, bake with gluten-free flour and so on. In Australia, these were easy enough to get at our local supermarkets. Not a great range, but they were available. The regular American supermarkets seem to have a limited gluten-free range - in fact, I've yet to see any gluten-free bread in a normal supermarket.

Add to this the fact that Miss Pie began eating solids about seven months ago. After six months of exclusive breastfeeding, I felt somewhat protective about what went into her mouth, so wanted to start her off with organic food.

We hadn't been in L.A. long when someone suggested we try Whole Foods for gluten-free bread, and we haven't looked back. I have never seen such an incredible range and variety of gluten-free products -  all I can say to anyone who is gluten-intolerant or coeliac and living in America, go straight to Whole Foods... run!

However, the cost of groceries at Whole Foods means that I don't shop there for everything. Just the gluten-free items, and organic ingredients for making baby food ready-made baby food for my lazy days, which are frequent.

This is the theory, anyway. Whenever I set foot in their store, it's with the intention of purchasing only the products just mentioned. Putting theory into practice is a little more difficult, because everything in there is presented so tantalisingly. Everything smells so delicious and wholesome. Everything looks so, well, good for you.

Therein lies my problem. Once I step inside, my brain tells me that if Whole Foods sell it, then it must be okay. It's not bad for you. I go into a food fog, without actually eating. A basketful of necessary purchases turns into half a trolley's worth. I find it impossible to emerge without spending a minimum of $60.

This is bad news for our budget, but good news for Whole Foods.

The process usually happens as follows: after selecting the fruit and vegetables I want, I then head straight to the pasta aisle and grab a few boxes of the gluten-free version. I then set out to grab whatever other gluten-free ingredients are on my list, and do the same with baby food and snacks. Then, en route to the bread aisle, I pass the beautifully displayed cheeses.

Mmm... cheese... I haven't had any Jarlsberg for ages... oh, and they have British cheddar! Yum!

Plonk. Plonk. Into the trolley.

Mmm... breakfast burritos? How could they possibly taste anything but divine?

Plonk. Into the trolley.

At some stage, I head down the frozen aisle to pick up sweet potato fries. The frozen aisle also contains a plethora of other goodies.

Mmm... frozen waffles... we really should take up that fine American tradition of waffles for breakfast... these ones are organic, so they can't be bad for you...

Plonk. Into the trolley.

Mmm... they have a much better range of Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavours than the local supermarket... S'mores! I haven't tried that one yet!

Plonk. Into the trolley.

By that point, any delusions of buying healthily have gone out the window. Along the way, the Faery will have also conned me into buying her fruit twists, a fruity concoction that resembles licorice straps but is super tangy, sweet and - I'm pretty sure - not that healthy.

At this rate? I may need to book an extra seat for my arse on the airline when we return to Australia...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Twenty-four seven

First of all, let me admit that I enjoy reading a trashy magazine from time to time. Sometimes, as happens when surfing the net, I accidentally find myself arriving at a gossipy website. I try not to make a habit of it, but there you go. It happens.

When I read articles about celebrities and their use of nannies for their children, I'm often amazed at the bitter, judgemental tones of these many authors. Even a sense of smug superiority.

I've decided that - whether they know it or not - they're jealous. Pure and simple.

How on earth do these writers know, for fact, that these women love their children any less? Have they been inside their homes? Have they personally witnessed the interaction between these parents and their kids? I very much doubt it.

If there's one thing that I've learned over the years, jealousy is a huge factor in motivating people to be nasty. They may dress up their judgements in all sorts of justifications, but when you boil away all of their reasonings, you're usually left with jealousy. Or ignorance.

Before kids, I was hasty to judge celebrities for employing nannies.

Then I became a mother.

Now - while I have no desire to offload my children to another person to raise, or to shirk my duties - I'd be lying if I said the idea of occasionally having someone around to help out didn't appeal to me. Hell, I'd be happy with an afternoon once a fortnight.

One of the downsides of moving overseas, away from family and friends, is losing the supportive network and not having a single person you can call on to mind the kids for a couple of hours if needed. I'm not going to turn this into a whinge about that, though, because J and I knew what we were in for when we decided to make the Big Move, and I'm grateful for the adventures we can have here.

But as much as I adore the Faery? I love the days where she's at preschool. I love having a break from thinking of ways to stimulate and entertain her. I love not having to listen to her whinging about wanting to watch more TV, or being bored. I love not hearing those annoying cartoon voices for a while.

I'm not terribly good at the play aspect of parenting - not much times passes, then I am the one whinging I'm bored.

I can only interpret so many drawings...
(apparently this is me, asleep and dreaming about a pig)

A qualified person to help out, stimulate and entertain her? Sounds good to me.

Here is the catch, though - nannies cost money. A lot of money. Money we absolutely need for more essential things. Bugger. And considering I'm not working right now - therefore not bringing in any money - raising my kids full time is my job for now, but this doesn't mean I wouldn't like a break at times. This gig is 24/7.

Which brings me back to the bitchy articles about Angelina Jolie and friends. I can guarantee that if I had six kids, and oodles of cash to spare, I'd be employing a nanny or three. You bet I would. Just because a woman has chosen to have six children - in a loving home - it doesn't mean she should be a martyr and juggle everything herself.

So when I read these judgemental articles now? I don't feel jealous, but I do feel a tug of envy at how lovely it must be for these mothers to have just that little bit more freedom at times. I'm not going to hold that against them, either. That's not really in the spirit of sisterhood.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Black goodness

No Aussie-abroad-blog would be complete without mentioning Vegemite at some point.

My favourite thing about opening a brand new jar of this concentrated yeast extract?

That irresistible sheen of glossy black goodness on top.

A slick gloss that has yet to be tempered by knife scrapings and remnants of toast crumbs, jam, marmalade, or peanut butter.

Nothing but promises of pure Vegemite. Mmm...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Misunderstanding #2

The Faery came home from preschool yesterday, bursting to show me a sticker she'd received from one of her teachers for being a good listener. The sticker has since been removed and stuck - as they do - to various items. It looks a little the worse for wear now, but I want to share:

The Faery giggled in delight as she showed it to me, "It says little booga, Mum!"

Ahem. Booga is a word that gets used from time to time a lot in this home, to refer to snot. Hey, shit happens, and so does snot! I'm not entirely sure how this colloquial word is in fact spelt, but I'm pretty sure it's not spelt the same way as the word in the sticker. At least, in Australia.

And in Australia? Lil bugger isn't really a compliment. Sure, it can be a term of endearment we use to refer to our own kids, but it's usually accompanied by some tearing out of one's own hair, and wringing of hands. At the very least, a wink.

As for further uses of the word? Bugger that... Man, I am buggered... Need a new car, this one's engine is buggered... You get the idea. Where I come from? Bugger is an effective substitute for fuck, but with a slightly more comedic undertone. Not as harsh.

Bugger is not really part of a child's vocabulary - although my mother used this word frequently enough, then used to immediately chastise herself, and I'd be scratching my head because (as a child) I had no idea what it meant. She used to say it was an old-fashioned swear word, and left it at that. I did once look it up in the dictionary at home, but in my complete naivety didn't understand what an act of sodomy meant, so that was a futile exercise.

For a long time, I never really used bugger, even when friends around me were. I'd been successfully conditioned to think it was old-fashioned, and I didn't want to be old-fashioned. Then I spent time in London, and acquired a more British vernacular: Bugger...  Bollocks... Mingin...  It no longer felt old-fashioned and has stayed with me since. It gets used. A lot. Bollocks likes to come out at times too...

Anyhow, thanks to the wonders of social media, I didn't waste time in sharing the story of the Faery's sticker with friends back home. I mean, lil bugger being used as a positive term for a preschooler? Too funny to be true.

However, a good friend of mine assured me that lil sugar booga is an American term of endearment, so I had to do some online research of my own... and what do you know? Apparently little bugger can have the same meaning as whippersnapper and is quite a G-rated expression in America.

Well, you learn something new everyday...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Faking and creativity

Do you ever have moments where you feel something in you brighten, just a little? Days where that light hasn't dimmed from whatever's been happening, but you look at something and feel brighter? Or perhaps hear some music which makes that little inner light glow stronger? Maybe it's something you read, or something that a person tells you... but whatever the trigger is, you feel a spark inside.

I had a moment like that last night. I haven't had a great deal of those moments recently, but I want more moments like that. It was the most minor of things that triggered it - I just happened to be reading about a little gimmicky photography trick, and the next thing I knew, I'd spent an hour googling images which had been created using that trick. Although this trick (miniature faking) tends to be done on computer software, I remembered reading - when I first got my lovely DSLR camera - that it was possible to edit photos on it to give the same effect.

Here's an example: (edited 05/17/11 - I've removed this image and accompanying link as this post was coming up at the top of Google searches for 'miniature faking', and sending far more traffic to this post than I'm comfortable with)

I skimmed over various articles about this effect, and a lot of people seem to quite dismissive of it. Tacky. Gimmicky. Unnecessary. Those were words that kept popping up. Whatever. I think it's a fun little trick, and when I finally went to bed, my mind was racing with ideas for where I could go to take photos that would work well with that effect. Just for fun.

The little light inside us that brightens at times? For me, this happens when I feel inspired, and have creative moments. The creative side to me is a part that has been, sadly, buried a little during my adulthood.

I'm not a writer. I don't claim to be, but I do have fun with it and enjoy it. As a school student, I loved being given creative writing tasks - they were my favourite English class assessments. I relished these. Much more fun than dissecting and analysing novels and poetry. Although my posts here couldn't be classed as creative writing, I'm having fun, nonetheless.

I'm also not an artist, but here's a secret: I'm pretty good at drawing. I used to do a lot of it in my student days, and for me, drawing achieves the same sense of calm that others get from meditation.  I've always intended to explore other forms of visual arts and now I realise intention is no longer enough. I can't remember the last time I picked up a crayon or pencil, just for me. I need to get more creative again.

Part of that is improving my photography skills. I'll admit to being lazy much of the time and using the automatic settings, but I'm slowly understanding the manual settings and busting out of my comfort zone to use them - I just need more 'me' time to do this. For some reason, it's not as enjoyable with a bored toddler or preschooler in tow.

So these little light-brightening moments? I need to pay more attention to them. I had a huge moment a couple of years ago, which had me examining my lack of creativity. I was at a concert - one of not many that I've attended since having kids. J and I were seeing The Presets at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney, and having a fabulous, thumping good time. I was enjoying the music, and feeling a little like the old me who used to go out and dance all night long in London.

Listening to their music, I began marvelling at what a wonderful thing it must be to create great music, and leave that as your legacy. Something your kids will listen to one day, and perhaps gain some deeper insight into who you are or were. I began to also think how that could be applied to so many other forms of creativity too. Painting. Photography. Writing. Sewing. Film making.

I want that. I want to be able to leave something that my own kids will be able to look at. Or read. Something that will help them to feel closer to me. Maybe whatever the legacy is, will be just tucked away in a box somewhere and not for public consumption. I don't know what my legacy will be, but I want one.

So there you have it. Further ramblings from my mind. I kind of feel I've put a little piece of my soul here, just now... but that little light is feeling bright today, and I'm grateful for that.

Did I mention one of my all time favourite artists is Vincent Van Gogh? Well, now you know. I'll leave you with one of his paintings which has also had the miniature faking, or tilt shifting effect, applied... pretty cool, eh?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Easter Bunny's thunder

Our local supermarket prepares for commercial success on Valentine's Day.
I do like the tulips, though...

Valentine's Day has just been taken to a new level. In my world, anyway.

I hail from a country where this particular day is targeted at couples. The only people who bother to exchange cards, flowers, chocolates (or whatever else they've been suckered into buying) are teenagers and adults. At least, that's been my experience of it.

And in Australia, it's not something for children, but over the years, I've seen - from American TV shows - that the children here exchange cards at school, so that wasn't a new concept. I'll be prepared to get out the glitter and glue for the Faery when she's at school next year.

However, in recent weeks, I've seen increasing attempts by advertisers and stores to get parents to part with their bucks for Valentine gifts for their offspring. That is a new concept to me.

Do I sound cynical about the day and its meaning? I probably am. J and I haven't participated in this ritual since we were teenagers ourselves. Neither of us really buys into the rampant consumer side of things.

If we want to show tokens of love and appreciation to one another, we'll do it when we feel the need. Surprises are a lovely thing. Flowers or chocolates because it's February 14th? I actually think that giving because it's expected makes it less special. I prefer surprises.

Lashes of pink, love hearts, and chocolate:
The 4-year-old Faery is sold on the idea

The amusing thing about this abundance of Valentine's Day displays is that very little attention has been given to Easter yet. In Australia, the chocolate Easter eggs would be rolled out into the shops, oh, maybe a week or two after Christmas? By February, entire supermarket aisles are devoted to the Easter Bunny. This has always seemed like overkill to me. Here? I've only seen one tiny display for Easter merchandise so far.

So this year, I'm having fun observing the varieties of Valentine's choccies on display, even if I don't really desire them for myself. Valentine's Day is stealing some of the Easter Bunny's thunder, just as Halloween steals a little of Santa's in America. The thought makes me grin.

There are a few things I'll miss about Aussie Easters while we're in the US, though. In terms of work, it's just a regular week and weekend here. We arrived just before Easter last year, and J began his exciting new job immediately. I was expecting that he wouldn't have to work on Good Friday and Easter Monday. I was desperately hopeful, because we'd only been here a week and had that newly arrived daze about us. A couple of days off would have been very helpful. No such luck though, and somewhat disappointing.

The other thing I'll miss? Warm hot cross buns, with melted butter seeping in. Actually, any hot cross buns will do. I didn't see any last year, and don't even know if people eat them here. I suspect not, and have a sad feeling it's a tradition that Australia inherited from Britain.

Hot cross buns are my favourite thing about Easter - even more so than the chocolate. Coming from a chocoholic like me, that's saying something. So please, if any American readers know of somewhere I could get my hands on a dozen - or two - speak up and let me know!

I suppose I could get off my butt and attempt to bake some, but I'm not entirely confident that emulating Nigella Lawson or Martha Stewart would be successful... but it could be fun.

My other option is to be on my best behaviour and write a nice note to the Easter Bunny. He might bring me some buns, right?... oh, wait... that's how Santa operates...


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Eating words

Well, not a lot of words for this post, but I had to share what Miss Pie has been up to:

I think she's taken this title a little too seriously.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I'm no hipster...

After three long hours of kid-wrangling at a car dealership yesterday, J and I decided to reward ourselves with a couple of great take-away coffees on the way home. We were passing through Old Pasadena, where Intelligentsia is, and it had been a while since we last treated ourselves.

J sat with the kids in the car while I ran in to grab the coffees. The queue was out the door - longer than I'd ever seen it. As I waited, I did some people-watching. This is a favourite past time of mine, and one that I don't have the luxury of doing much of these days.

Watching the baristas, and the majority of customers, was a little like being at the zoo.

You see, I'm no hipster (I have countless photos to prove this). They were.

They were achingly hip. Effortlessly groovy hair? Check. Tattoos nicely hinted at? Check. Funky outfits? Check. The latest in Apple technology on display? Check. Small offspring perfectly accessorised in vintage gear? Check.

We sometimes get a coffee from Intelligentsia because they make such damn good coffee. Coffee that almost gives you a religious experience.

We don't go there for the vibe. The vibe doesn't excite me. The baristas take themselves just a little too seriously.

Anyhow. I was waiting in the line, people-watching, when a song came over the speakers. A song that sounded so familiar, and one that I'd heard a few times recently. I was trying to figure out how I knew this music, when it suddenly came to me:

I tell you, it took all of my restraint not to laugh out loud. Portlandia is a new show that I've been watching, and have fallen in love with. It's incredibly funny, and pokes a lot of fun at the various groovy, alternative cultures within Portland.

Although the show is set and filmed in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon, it's not mocking Portland itself. It's a show which could be set within just about any Western city. It would work just as easily if it were set in Sydney's Newtown, or Brighton in the UK, to name a few places. For the record, I've been to Portland, adored it, and have some wonderful friends who live there.

But how I love this show. It's delicious. It's clever. Some of the characters are so 'wrong' that I'm transported back a decade, when I used to watch The League of Gentlemen (in my opinion, one of the best dark comedies ever) and was pushed far outside my comfort zone. 

So, standing in line for my coffee, people-watching the hipsters, hearing the music, thinking of Portlandia and how fitting the music was... it was one of those moments where I wished more than anything I had J right beside me. He would have got it. He would have known why I was about to explode into giggles. When I was back in the car, coffees in hand, he laughed as soon as I mentioned which piece of music had been playing inside.

He totally had the same thoughts... and that's why I adore him.

For now? I'll leave you with a clip about my new favourite TV show:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Misunderstanding #1

The toilet - AKA  the loo, porcelain throne, dunny... or potty

When the Faery began attending preschool over here, there was much excitement. At the time, we were still waiting for our container of belongings to arrive. Although we decided not to bring all of our treasures - and got rid of a lot of things before The Big Move - the one room which had every item packed for shipping was the Faery's. I figured that whatever she'd outgrown, would be used again for Miss Pie.

So we waved goodbye to the big truck, and six crazy weeks raced by. Six crazy weeks of staying in various places, saying goodbye to our friends and family, a fourteen-hour flight, living in a hotel room (all four of us!) and looking for our own place to rent. By the time we'd settled in to our apartment, the Faery was well and truly over living out of just the one small suitcase of her favourite toys and books. She was over having no play mates. She was gagging for preschool, and we were lucky to find a great one, close to home.

After she'd been going for a week or two, we were walking home one day and she shared with me, "Mum, in America, when children want to go to the toilet, they say 'I want to go party'."

I had to stop and think about that one. 

Then it came to me: 

- Firstly, for some reason, American kids don't say toilet. They say potty, whereas in Australia, a potty is strictly the smaller, mobile, plastic version used for purposes of toilet-training kids. Potty-training, if you're American. Go potty = go to the toilet.

- Secondly, the way Australians say party, and the way Americans say potty? They sound exactly the same. Either way, it's /pɑːti / 

(Unless you're from New Jersey. Then, it'd probably be /pɔːwt/ ...sorry - years spent as an English language teacher mean I can't help myself at times, and the nerd in me rears her head when phonetics are involved. I have so little need for them these days.)

Anyhow, that was one of the Faery's introductions to toilet lingo in the US. Between myself, J and the Faery, we've each had some misunderstandings - some awkward, and some funny - so I will try to share them here from time to time.

And speaking of toilets, I am still getting used to the American ones. Something about the wider bowl and the closer proximity of - ahem - contents to the surface. Turning around to flush, there seems to be much more on view than I really want to see...